Word Counts and More — New Filing Requirements for State Appellate Courts Go Into Effect Sept. 1

Most attorneys and self-represented litigants who file documents with the Washington Court of Appeals and Supreme Court will have new requirements to meet beginning Sept. 1, 2021.

The most significant change involves length restrictions — documents will now be held to word-count limits rather than page limits. Documents will also be required to use a minimum 14 point font rather than the previous 12 point limit. The new rules apply to all filers using word processing software. Filers using typewriters or hand-written documents may still use previous page and font limits.

The new filing requirements were recommended by the Word Count Work Group appointed by the Supreme Court. The Court approved the changes and adopted them in the new Rules of Appellate Procedure 18.17. Details are available on a web page dedicated to the new requirements at www.courts.wa.gov/wordcounts. The web page includes a link to the new rule, specifics on which parts of a document are included in the limits, exceptions, a guide for finding the correct word count on a document, explanation of how to certify the word count, a chart of specific document changes and more. For instance, an opening brief filed with an appellate court was previously limited to 50 pages and is now limited to 12,000 words.

The Word Count Work Group was headed by retired Justice Charles Wiggins and then-Deputy Supreme Court Clerk Erin Lennon, who has recently been appointed Supreme Court Clerk. The group included appellate court judges and administrators, attorneys specializing in appeals, and representatives of several justice organizations such as the Washington State Bar Association and the Office of Public Defense. Group members worked to ensure new word limits closely approximated the length of previous page limits.

The effort was undertaken as an increasing number of trial and appellate courts across the country began switching to word count limits. According to the cover page explaining the proposed rule change before it was adopted, “Using word counts rather than page limits provides a level playing field, where the length of a document (and thus, how much legal argument can be made) is not determined by formatting decisions such as fonts, spacing, and use of footnotes. More courts are switching to word counts as it becomes simpler for users to apply. In an increasingly electronic world, it appears that word counts are the way of the future.”

For further information on filing and other operations of Washington’s Court of Appeals (Division I based in Seattle, Division II based in Tacoma and Division III based in Spokane), as well as the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office, please visit https://www.courts.wa.gov/appellate_trial_courts.

– Washington Courts